Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The History of the Cold War #2: "The World Must Be Made Safe for Democracy"

The war to end all wars, as it was called, was a failed cliche. Over 9 million soldier deaths. Twenty one million injuries, ten million civilian deaths. France and Germany had sent 80 percent of their male population, ages 15-49 into WWI. 

The United States had mostly lived by the principle of isolationism; desire was supported by geographic separation and distance from the broiling turmoil in Europe and elsewhere.  President Woodrow Wilson wanted peace; almost a year and a half before the official end of WWI, Wilson proposed to both houses of congress his 14 point plan for peace and safety. Some of his ideas went forth to The Treaty of Versailles-- meant to stop the futility of war--but instead, fueled the next war only 20 years later. ***

On January 8 1917, Wilson read his 14 points. His desires: It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.

Wilson's 14 points called for:
1. Open diplomacy: peace keeping should be public and for the public good. He called an end to secrecy in diplomacy.
2. Freedom of the seas
3. Removal of economic barriers--or free trade
4. Reduction of armaments: the less the killing capabilities, the less will be killed
5. Adjustment of colonial claims--with respect to all: sovereignty as well as people under rule of another nation
Points 6-13 deal directly with settling specific land hostilities among the nations involved in WWI: redrawing of boundaries, restoration of lands, and independence for certain countries.

Point 14: A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. The precursor to the League of Nations, which the United States would never be a part of.

Needless to say, not everyone in Europe was happy with the distant American proposal, but the need to rely on American monies to rebuild after the war's devastation, made some countries more compliant--at the time. 

For Russia, the 14 points fueled the fissure between them and the US. Lenin's Bolshevik uprising was made in part against the capitalists responsible for this terrible world war. Wilson's 14 points was in part a stab at the Russians. John Gaddis, Harvard professor of history explains in The Cold War:  "(Wilson) found himself waging two wars, one with military might against Imperial Germany and its allies, the other with words against the Bolsheviks (Lenin). Wilson's 14 points, speech of January 1918, the single most influential statement of an American ideology in the 20th century, was a direct response to the ideological challenge Lenin had posed. There began at this point, then, a war of ideas--a contest among visions--that would extend through the rest of WWI, the interwar years, WWII and most of the Cold War (87).

And so it begins...

***Because Wilson became ill at the Paris Peace Treaty, the French foreign minister changed the German reparations into drastic and debilitating responsibilities from which Germany felt it could never recover. The Treaty of Versailles, the treaty signed to end the war, required Germany to take responsibility for the war and accept and pay financial reparations. The Germans were required to pay the allies 132 billion gold Reichmarks or 32 billion US dollars in addition to the 5 billion already demanded by the treaty. The return of German aggression shortly thereafter, is what I believe helped the US take a future benevolent stances against the countries they conquered and who started the wars of destruction. After WWII, the US helped Germany and Japan get back on their feet. Both economies have thrived in the post world war years.

Following soon: History of The Cold War #3